Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine
Muharram / SAFAR 1424 H
April 2003
Volume 16-04 No : 196
Camps \ Workshops

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Islamic History


The Blue Mosque
Understanding the Meaning of Tafseer


The Blue Mosque

By M.J. Saeed

In the 17th century, in Qustuntuniya, Istanbul, the Blue Mosque was built. It is part of history that Mustafa Kamal Pasha used to say his prayers in the Blue Mosque.

In 1955, as master of Pan-Islamic pilgrim ship “Safina-i-Nusrat”, I had the good fortune to navigate through the Bosphorus to Burgas, in Bulgaria, to pick 120 pilgrims. When we were navigating through the Bosphorus, I was reminded of my earlier visit, when I had made it a point to climb up the hill range and say a silent prayer for the famous sailor and Turkish leader Khairuddin Barbarossa. His place of rest bears a plaque with the simple Arabic words: “Maet Ameerul Bahr,” dead is the ruler of the seas. Indeed, Barbarossa ruled the entire Mediterranean during the days of Sulaiman the Magnificent. I remember that most of our pilgrims boarded in Tripoli, Syria and Port Said and we sailed into Jeddah in good time for the Haj.

In the building of a mosque, the traditional architectural forms reflect the Islamic cosmogony and its sacred texts. The courtyard is like paradise; the domes and the wall-towers reflect the Sacred Mountain and the gates represent entrances to heaven. The axes between the minarets show movement through the city and the hemispherical dome evokes the sky; when one looks at the dome the evocation is complete.

Cities like Istanbul and Baghdad present a prototype of the concentric design. I remember having this feeling when standing close to the mosques in Qurtuba and Al Hamrah, years before the Spanish vandals damaged the approaches to these historical holy places.

City-squares, hexagonal and rectilinear, contain components which seemingly reverberate with the whole structure. Facades of mosques show the entire concert as an assembly of lively and sacred forms interwoven into a coherent whole, in symphony with humankind.

I have had the good fortune to enter Masjid-i-Aqsa, mosques in Cairo and in Makkah and Madina, as well as the beautiful mosque in Islamabad, with the world-famous calligraphy done by our own Famous, but humble Guljee.

The geometry in Islamic architecture is symbolic, and the patterns occur everywhere, from the macrocosmic level to the microcosmic one as an inherent feature of the design. Triangles, squares and hexagons create their own proportions and systems. It was Khalifa Mamoon Al Rasheed who sent his emissaries to Greece with a request for the valuable parchments, which he, personally, promised and undertook to return, without any damage. All these documents of mathematics, astronomy and philosophy were translated into Arabic, even the Code of Hammurabi, in cuneiform texts, was translated and the Khalifa’s emissaries returned the texts and parchments after the translations were done.

Western thinkers have, at last, admitted as written in the Time some years ago that, not only the translations and research on the Greek texts, but achievements of Muslim mathematicians, like Abu Moosa Al Khwarizimi, historiographers like Ali Ibn Sina and Ibn Khaldoon, and research done at the library in Alexandria provided the fundamentals which brought about the European Renaissance, which started in Florence.

Our scholars and intellectuals should be assigned the task of research and study into the causes of the Muslim Renaissance in the 10th century. How much did it owe to Islam and how much to the earlier heritage of Babylonians, Assyrians and Egyptians. Was there no conflict of ideas and thoughts as Danilevsky, Toynbee and Sorokin have pointed out. It remains for our learned people to resolve, as was done by Luther, Bacon and Erasamus, Rabelais and Montaigne. Our scholars must endeavour to exercise their knowledge and intuitive vision to make our wandering planet a centre of unending enquiry and acquisition and spread of knowledge and learning as ordained by the Holy Prophet (Peace be upon him).

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Understanding the Meaning of Tafseer

By Syed Anwer Ali

The Arabic word “Tafseer” is derived from “Fasara” which means “to explain, to open or to unveil”. In the Islamic Terminology, “Tafseer” means interpretation of the Holy Quran. Closely connected with the word “Tafseer” there is another word “Taweel” which is derived from “Awala” meaning “to revert to the real”.

Originally both these words i.e. Tafseer and Taweel were taken to be one and the same, and perhaps that was the reason that the famous commentary of the Holy Quran by Ibn-e-Qateba (d. 276 A.H.) was named as “Taweel Mushkil-ul-Quran” and that of Mataridi (d. 333 A.H.) was named as “Taweelaatui Quran”.

The Holy Quran itself has used both these words in the same sense. As for instance in Ayat No.33 of Surah Furqan (No. 25) the word “Tafseer” and in Ayat No. 7 of Surah Imran (No.3) the word “Taweel” has been used in one and the same sense i.e. explanation or interpretation. Originally therefore, the scholars were of the view that Tafseer and Taweel are synonymous. In the latter ages, however, with the advancement of the knowledge of the Holy Quran, the scholars differentiated between Tafseer and Taweel and held them as two different things. Thus according to Abu Hayyan of Spain (the author of “Al-Behrul Muheet”), Tafseer means “to explain the words and phrases”, and Taweel means “to explain the construction of sentences and their meaning”. Imam Raghib in his “Al-Mufredaat” says that Tafseer applies to Quran as well as to non-heavenly books, but Taweel applies to the Heavenly Books only. According to him, Tafseer deals with “words” and Taweel deals with their “Significance”. According to Abu Nasir Al-Qashairi, Tafseer depends upon “Sama and Itteba” i.e. following of the Traditions of the Holy Prophet (Pbuh) while Taweel depends upon logical deductions and inferences. According to Shah Abdul Aziz of Delhi, three conditions are necessary for Tafseer. Firstly, the outer or hidden meaning of the words should be fixed; secondly, due regard should be given to the context; and thirdly, it should not be against the interpretation given by the Holy Prophet and his companions. If the first condition is lacking; the interpretation will be “Taweel-e-Qarib”. If the second or the third condition is lacking, it will be “Taweel-e-Ba’eed”. But if all the three conditions are lacking, it will be “Tehreef”.

Inspite of the differentiations made by the scholars in the meanings of Tafseer and Taweel, the commentaries of the Holy Quran written down the ages consist of both Tafseer and Taweel and as a whole they are named as Tafseer only. It therefore, follows that the word “Tafseer” is generally taken to imply “Taweel” also.

Thus Tafseer of the Holy Quran consists in explaining the difficult words and phrases including grammatical construction of the sentences, purpose of revelation, “Naasikh” and “Mansookh”, “Mohkam” and “Mutashaabeh”, unique features of the Holy Quran, examples, oaths and events quoted by the Holy Quran, commands relating to the compulsory, obligatory, permissible and forbidden things, fundamental beliefs, inherent meaning of mystical or philosophical expressions, objections raised by the non-believers and so on. Thus as regards the purpose of revelation, the books written by Ibn-e-Mutrib of Spain (d. 402 A.H.) known as “Asbab-un-Nuzool”, and by Allama Wahidi (d. 468 A.H.) also known as “Asbab-un-Nuzool” and by Allama Suyuti (d. 911 A.H.) known as “Lubab-ul-Uqqul Fi Asbab-un-Nuzool”, are important. All these books deal with the circumstances under which particular Ayats and Surah were revealed. To know the purpose of revelation of any Ayat or Surah, no doubt, helps understanding its real meaning and its application to particular circumstances.

In the Holy Quran, the Ayats are “Mohkam”. i.e. those Ayats whose meaning is manifest and final, as well as “Mutashaabeh’’, i.e. those Ayats relating to the fundamental beliefs i.e. Unity of God, Prophethood, Heavenly Books. Angels, Day of Judgement, Prayers, permissible and forbidden things; and the latter consists of such matters which are beyond reason, as for example the personality of God, life after death, etc. These are explained mostly through examples as their real meaning is known to “Allah” alone and we have only to believe in them (Imran, 3:7).

“The important books dealing with the “Mohkam’’ and “Mutasbaabeh” Ayats are those written by Imam Raghib known as “Mufredaat-ul-Quran”, by Imam Kasa’ee. The Quran takes oath of many things, e.g. Injir, Zaitun, Heaven, Stars, Winds, Toor, Horses, Time. etc. Explanation of the purpose of these oaths also falls within the scope of Tafseer. In fact, it is necessary to remove the doubts that usually arise in the minds of the people in this respect. This subject has been dealt with by Imam Razi in his “Tafseer-e-Kabir”. But the most important books on it are “Al-Tibyan Fi Aqsamul Quran” by Allama Ibne Qayyim, and “Al-Im’aan Fi Aqsamul Quran” by Allama Hamid-ud-Din Farahi (d. 1349 A.H.).

At various places, the Quran has given stories of previous nations and the Prophets of Allah to show that the Message of Allah has always been the same throughout, and that the people always opposed it and as a result met with a pitiable end. This was with a view to warn the people that in case they still refuse to obey the commands of Allah, received through the last Prophet Mohammad, they will also have to face the same destiny, and also to strengthen the hearts of the believers against sufferings at the hands of the non-believers. On this subject the books written by Abul Qasim Abdul Rahman Al-Suheli (d. 581 A.H.), Allama Ahmad Al-Abadi, Ahmad Al-Sajai (d. 1197 A.H.), and Mohammad Abul Khair Abadin (d. 1343 A.H.) are important.

The writer is advocate, Supreme Court of Pakistan

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